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The Quick 10: 10 Undignifed Deaths

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I don't know that there is ever a particularly dignified way to die, I guess, but these 10 seemed especially unseemly. Note to self: don't do drugs while sitting on the toilet. Well, don't do drugs at all. You know what I mean.

1. Chris Farley. We all know he died of an accidental overdose, but it's rumored that he had hired an exotic dancer to keep him company the night of his death. When he collapsed, the dancer thought he was doing one of his comic routines, snapped a picture, and left. If there's truth to this story, my guess is that she knew exactly what was happening and didn't want to be implicated in anything.

2. Lenny Bruce. Famous comedian Lenny Bruce died in his bathroom. A quick Google search will surely net you a photo of how he was found, if you're interested. If you're like me and prefer to read about it, he was naked with a syringe and a burned bottle cap lying near him.

3. Elvis, of course. No, he didn't die on the toilet, like everyone says, but it was pretty close. He was sitting there when he became ill (the placement of vomit and vomit stains indicated this in the official report, anyway) and then stumbled a few feet away to where he died. An undignified death, whether he was actually sitting on it or not.

fauve4. Felix Faure. Faure was the President of France from 1895 until his death in 1899. Although the official cause is "apoplexy", which at the time meant anything from stroke to heart attack, it was likely brought on by the fact that he was, um, in a delicate position with his 30-year-old mistress.
5. Nelson Rockefeller. Gerald Ford's second-in-command died just two years after his term ended. The conditions were similar to President Faure's. Although first reports said Rockefeller was at his office, working dilligently on a book about his extensive collection of art, it was later confirmed as a lie. He was actually with his 26-year-old assistant Megan Marshack. Although his family has never confirmed this, and Megan Marshack declines all interviews, a long-time Rockefeller associate and aide, Joe Persico, confirmed that the two were alone in "undeniably intmate circumstances."

6. Orville Redenbacher. His isn't so bad, but he was found dead in his bathroom like so many others. No, it wasn't a speedball that did the 88-year-old popcorn king in, it was the Whirlpool. Sadly, Orville drowned when he had a heart attack in the spa.

judy7. Judy Garland. Yes, Dorothy Gale from Kansas died on the pot. Her new husband, Mickey Dean, discovered that Judy was missing and the bathroom door was locked. Desperate, he climbed to the roof to look through the bathroom window and found Judy sitting on the toilet, slumped forward. She had died several hours earlier (he was asleep at the time) from an overdose of barbiturates.
8. Pope John XII was anything but holy. And he definitely didn't uphold that whole celibacy vow. In fact, he died when one of his lovers' husbands walked in on the two of them and bludgeoned the Pope to death.

9. Jean Danielou was a French Cardinal whose death may or may not have been undignified. Well, it was, but whether he was there for undignified purposes or not remains to be seen: he was in the stairwell of a brothel when he died. Although many suspected Pope John-like sinning, many people said that he often visited brothels "“ to pray with and counsel the destitute women who were selling themselves.

cass10. Mama Cass. Her death wasn't actually undignified, but the rumors that have surrounded her 1974 death definitely are. And here's the official word: she did not choke to death on a ham sandwich. Cass Elliot was found dead in her bed, and a policeman simply observed that there was a half-eaten sandwich nearby and wondered if it had contributed to her death. But the autopsy didn't find any food in her trachea at all. The official cause was heart failure "“ Cass died in her sleep.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Name the Author Based on the Character
May 23, 2017
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